The Mediterranean Sea is at the heart of the Atlantis story. Solon brings the tale back from Egypt to Athens and relates how the Atlanteans controlled the Mediterranean as far as Tyrrhenia and Egypt. The Atlanteans attack Athens and Egypt. Although the Pillars of Heracles are now generally believed to have been located at the Strait of Gibraltar, a number of other locations in the Mediterranean are known to have been similarly designated at different periods. As I have argued elsewhere, the Pillars of Heracles were undoubtedly a designation for the Strait of Gibraltar from the time of Eratosthenes, there is clear evidence that it was applied to other locations in earlier ages and probably over time, it became a metaphor for the limits of Greek maritime knowledge.
I may be the first to claim here that modern studies of Homer’s Odysseus offer a possible argument in favour of a Central Mediterranean Atlantis. Armin Wolf, the German historian, has made a 40-year study of 80 theories regarding the route taken by Odysseus. Around 30 of these included maps, a number of which are included in Wolf’s book, Homers Reise: Auf den Spuren des Odysseus, a shorter version in English, including maps, is also available as a pdf file(a). It is obvious that although a reasonable degree of agreement exists between many of the theories regarding the position of the twelve specific locations recorded by Homer, those that confine the ‘wanderings’ to the Mediterranean, consistently keep all locations in the eastern basin and Central Mediterranean with the sole exception of the inclusion of Gibraltar which looks out of place on maps, with nothing on the way there or on the return trip. Wolf’s carefully thought out route does not include Gibraltar and in my opinion is a better reflection of actual Greek seafaring knowledge and naval capabilities at that time and adds a further suggestion, however inconclusive, that the Pillars of Heracles were situated in the Central Mediterranean.*Wolfgang Geisthövel follows Wolf’s conclusions in Homer’s Mediterranean.*
Today’s leading theories regarding the location of Atlantis are virtually all related to the Mediterranean region. Between Morocco in the west and the Black Sea in the east there is an embarrassment of suggested locations.
The principal objection to a Mediterranean location for Atlantis is the extent of the island as described by Plato, which if accepted as written, could not have fitted anywhere in that body of water. He gives us measurements for the plain adjacent to the city as being 240×360 miles. However, it is widely agreed that most of Plato’s dimensions are highly suspect and exaggerated by as much as a factor of ten.
On the other hand if Atlantis had been located outside the Mediterranean it is difficult to understand how the disaster that destroyed Atlantis could also have devastated Athens and its hinterland when the two locations would have been over 1700 miles apart.*No single known natural disaster, such as an earthquake, could have affected the two cities at the same time. So if they were destroyed concurrently we must conclude that the two locations were situated in the same region and since Athens was clearly in the Mediterranean so must Atlantis. However, Plato does not explicitly say that the two armies were destroyed at the same time, although it seems to be implied.*
As stated in the Invasion entry, all ancient empires expanded through the invasion of adjacent territories and so there is no good reason to think that Atlantis’ attack was not launched against an Athens that was within easy striking distance. This proximity could possibly explain the inference that Atlantean and Athenian armies were destroyed simultaneously by some natural catastrophe!
Finally, please consider the following facts;
(1) Herodotus tells us that the ancient Greeks only knew of three continents, Asia, Europe and Libya (Africa) (Hist.4.42).
(2) Plato never called Atlantis a continent but consistently referred to it as an island.
These three details taken together offer a compelling argument in favour of a Mediterranean Atlantis.
** Sicily is in fact larger in terms of area (25,708 v 24,090 km2). However, the coastal length of Sardinia is much greater than Sicily’s (1843 v 1115 km). Felice Vinci recently explained how ancient seafarers measured territory by its coastal perimeter rather than by its area, as we do today. So Herodotus was correct according to the conventions of his day.
Factor Ten is a term I have employed to describe the fact that so many of the numbers in Plato’s Atlantis story, referring to time, physical dimensions and population all appear to be exaggerations, but would be more credible if reduced by a factor of ten. The date of 9600 BC for a war between Atlantis and Athens is not compatible with the Bronze Age description given by Plato, the dimensions of the canals in the city of Atlantis suggest a profligate degree of over-engineering and the size of the Atlantean army, as recorded, is comparable to the numerical strength of today’s USA’s military. On top of that, there is no archaeological evidence to support the idea of Athens having anything more than a Stone Age culture in the 10th millennium BC.
Dr A. G. Galanopoulos, who spent years excavating on Santorini, alsosuggested that all numbers in the thousands in Plato’s text were exaggerated, during translation, by a factor of ten. One can be forgiven for thinking that he was prompted to do this in order to match Atlantis to the timeframe of the Theran eruption, which occurred about 900 years before Solon’s Egyptian trip. However, J. V. Luce and Dorothy Vitaliano have refuted this idea.
A more frequently suggested explanation for the conflict between the 9,000 years given by Plato and the Bronze Age backdrop is that a lunar rather than a solar calendar was utilised by the Egyptian priests which would bring the two elements more into phase. So perhaps ‘Factor Twelve’ might be a more appropriate appellation.
Eudoxus of Cnidos (c.408-355 BC) who also studied astronomy with the priests of Heliopolis in Greece was one of the first to suggest that the Ancient Egyptians used lunar cycles to measure time. The idea was later endorsed by the Egyptian priest Manetho, Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus. Centuries later, Francisco Cervantes de Salazar (1514-1575) in his Crónica de la Nueva España he was a firm supporter of the idea of interpreting Plato’s 9,000 ‘years’ as lunar cycles, echoing the earlier statement of Eudoxus.*A year later Olof Rudbeck proposed the same explanation.*
However, while the substitution of solar years with lunar cycles would give a date for the Atlantean war that is more compatible with conventional archaeology, it still leaves the apparently inflated dimensions and military numbers recorded by Plato, unexplained. Since all of Plato’s numbers, in the Atlantis narrative appear to be overstated by a similar amount it would seem appropriate to invoke the application of Occam’s Razor(c), which leads to an exaggeration by a factor of ten as the most likely explanation!
The use of lunar rather than solar units might explain the unrealistic ages ascribed to biblical characters such as Adam, Methuselah, or Noah although close study does not address all the difficulties. Similar problems exist with the length of the reign of individual Sumerian kings. My belief is that a common explanation will eventually be found to rationalise both sets of anomalies. The answer will probably include the application of the Sumerian use of a numeric base of 60, coupled with lunar, solar and the Egyptian use of three seasonal ‘years’ per solar year. Zoltán Simon has claimed that the ages of the patriarchs were calculated using 90-day ‘years’[0549.7].
A number of suggestions have been put forward to explain how Plato’s exaggerated numbers came to be. Georgeos Diaz-Montexanocontends that it was not any confusion over hieroglyphics that led to the a tenfold exaggeration of numbers but the fact that in the spoken language of the Egyptians 100 and 1000 can be easily confused.
What may be of relevance is the fact that the Cretan scripts known as Linear A and Linear B use similar numbering signs. The number 100 is designated by a circle whereas 1000 is a circle with four nipples known as excrescences at the cardinal points. Both James Mavor and Rodney Castleden have advocated the idea that it was a misreading of these Minoan numerals that led to Plato recording hundreds as ‘thousands’.
Another reason for considering a factor ten error in Plato’s numbers may be drawn from the Chicago Demotic Dictionary, which has been developed over the past three decades at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. It is edited by Professor Janet H. Johnson and is concerned with the ancient Egyptian cursive script in use from circa 650 BC, which is around the time of Solon, until the 5th century AD. Their website reveals that the cursive numerals for hundreds only differ from thousands by having longer tails(b) . I note that Johnson also records “that thousands sometimes had longer tails than expected”(p.23). This offers another credible explanation for how a transcription error could increase numbers by a factor of ten, which would bring Plato’s dates into conformity with other details in his Atlantis story, namely the Bronze Age milieu so clearly described there.
I also note that the Greeks had no zero or decimal point in their number system, making this kind of tenfold mistake quite a credible one(a).
Britain as the home of Atlantis has been claimed by many writers and not without undertones of nationalism by some of the British authors. Nevertheless, support for the idea has been offered by a number of the more disinterested researchers. Probably the first to advance this idea was John Wallis in 1700, who proposed that the Atlantis story had been corrupted over time and was a reference to the destruction of the landbridge that had existed between France and England, leaving a British Atlantis more isolated (The original Brexit!). It was nearly a century later that the idea was taken up by Thomas Pennant. More than another century passed before Cooper, Spence, Beaumont and Calestani produced related theories. Fast forward to the 21st century, when Donald Ingram identifies the Wessex II culture as Atlantean and Melville Nicholls considers Britain to be one of the Atlantean islands referred to by Plato.
The precise location, the exact date and the probable cause of the destruction of Atlantis are the basis for a range of theories. There is general acceptance that following the deglaciation at the end of the last Ice Age vast regions of low-lying land that had linked Ireland and Britain to mainland Europe were gradually flooded.
One school of thought is that these flooded regions contained Atlantis, of which the most extensive was in the North Sea and is now known as Doggerland. Other offshore locations proposed for Atlantis are the Celtic Shelf (Gidon, Steuerwald & Koudroiavtsev) and the Irish Sea (Dunbavin). These lands had been settled and following the inundations its inhabitants forced to retreat to the higher ground of what is modern Europe and the British Isles.
E. J. de Meester on his now defunct website postulated a link between Stonehenge and Atlantis. After arbitrarily dividing Plato’s dimensions by ten, he suggested that the plain described by Plato lay in a rectangle between Salisbury and Chichester.